DEAR DR. FOX: "The Underdogs: Children, Dogs and the Power of Unconditional Love" is a new book by Melissa Fay Greene about the unique relationships between children and the therapy or service dogs who help them. After more than 20 years working as a humane educator, I have seen firsthand the incredible and life-changing impact dogs can have on kids -- especially those with various challenges and disabilities. But does anyone stop and think about what happens to the hundreds of puppies bred for these programs that don't "make the cut"? The answer I always hear is that they are adopted out into wonderful homes -- but this means fewer homes are available for any of the 3 million homeless dogs killed in shelters every year.
There is no conclusive evidence that selectively bred puppies are any more successful as therapy and service dogs than dogs rescued and trained from shelters. Of the few independent studies that have been done, the overwhelming results indicate that puppy evaluations have no value at all, and the best way to predict the temperament and behavior of a dog as an adult is to assess it as an adult.
Does it take more effort, money or resources to find, evaluate, select and train rescued dogs? Probably not; you are not spending time and money raising the dogs until they are mature. Organizations that breed dogs or use bred dogs need to recognize that while they may be helping humans, they are harming dogs by contributing to the overpopulation problem. To learn more about the bond between rescue animals and children, please visit my organization's website, theshilohproject.org. -- N.K.T., The Shiloh Project, Fairfax, Virgina
DEAR N.K.T.: Since earliest times, dogs have been the victims of any commercial venture that can exploit their virtues. Certain individual dogs and breeds perform particular tasks better than others because of their size, agility and strength. But most important is their temperament and motivation, which calls for a close human-dog bond.
Many mixed breeds from an animal shelter could fill the basic selection criteria for service training. This holds true for military work. I regret that many purebreds who are not adapted to foreign climates and diseases are being deployed, rather than selecting from the indigenous population of wonderful local dogs, many of whom are adopted by troops as mascots and camp watchers.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our male, almost 1-year-old ragdoll cat, Benji, drops his last poop outside the litter box. This behavioral problem began three months ago after a procedure on his anal glands. We've tried every recommended suggestion from the breeder, vet, Google, Animal Doctor column, Jackson Galaxy website, etc., but nothing has stopped the problem. We've tried litter changes; litter boxes with high sides, low sides, covered, cover removed; and placing the litter box in the bathtub, bathroom, bedroom and playroom -- NOTHING WORKS.
He eats mostly dry food with a little wet. His stools are soft, so there shouldn't be any pain when he defecates. He urinates in the litter box and defecates all but one poop, which we are now finding in other parts of our home.
We have another male ragdoll kitten who is the same age, very docile in comparison with Benji's alpha personality. We love both our boys, but we are totally at a loss as to what to do to correct this problem, if it is correctable. -- S.W.S., Bethesda, Maryland
DEAR S.W.S.: Many people see ragdolls as adorable felines, but I prefer the "natural" alley cat-tabby with fewer behavioral and health issues because they are not so highly inbred. In fact, because of the popularity of certain breeds of cats, coupled with the proliferation of commercial cat breeding factories, we are seeing more health and behavioral problems in these pure breeds of cats, just as we see with purebred and "designer" varieties of dogs. Being very docile and relaxed -- ragdoll-like -- when handled is far from normal. Such traits are desired by some cat fanciers, but it's not in the cats' best interests.
Engage in interactive games and get your house-soiling cat physically active, especially early in the evening. Give him a deep abdominal massage for five to 10 minutes three to four times daily, as per my book "The Healing Touch for Cats." In flaccid, less active and overweight cats, a sluggish colon can lead to a condition called megacolon, where fecal material builds up and is not fully evacuated. This can lead to chronic constipation and make cats evacuate outside the litter box. You should also set up one or two additional litter boxes in quiet and easy-to-reach locations.
UNDERSTANDING DOG COGNITION
The study of what and how dogs think has gained momentum, and much of the research originates from the Duke Canine Cognition Center. Duke University associate professor Brian Hare said dogs have honed an ability to respond to "cooperative-communicative social cues," allowing them to complete tasks with minimal human guidance and priming them for jobs such as sniffing out drugs and diseases. The center's studies so far suggest that dog intelligence relates more to an individual animal than to breed.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)